Doing Their Part

Aerial View of the Twin Towers

I was four years old when the twin towers fell. I remember sitting on the couch in my TV room watching my father cry while he watched the newscasters cry. He lost a good friend in the attack. He’d get depressed in the weeks that followed, which made me sad, which made him want to cheer me up, which cheered him up. I didn’t know it, but I was doing my part.

Suheir Hammad doesn’t tell the reader how old she was or where she was in First Writing Since, a poem recounting her thoughts and emotions during the days following the 9/11 attacks. But Hammad does discreetly talk about her ‘part’, which comes to her in the first stanza of the fifth section. This stanza uses the repetition of the phrase “one more person” on its first and third lines to convey a tone of anger and frustration from Hammad, and suggests her role is to contain that anger.

Although it is not written in the text, the “one more person” lines easily complete themselves in the mind of the reader with, ‘and i swear i’ll…’, or a similar declaration. This aura of anger is aided by line 5.2, which replaces “person” with “motherfucker” when the individual in question expresses doubt of Hammad’s family’s integrity.

Used in this way, the phrase “one more person” typically implies that the speaker is daring the offenders to continue and wanting an excuse to release their anger. However, this stanza’s structure suggests the opposite. The repetition of “one more person” doesn’t actually begin until line 5.3; lines 5.1 and 5.2 use the phrases “one more person” and “one more motherfucker” respectively, which conveys an escalation of aggression. The de-escalation back to “one more person”, a phrase said twice in 5.3, suggests that Hammad fights to keep her anger at bay rather than searching for an excuse to release it.

This contradicts her statement in line 5.4, where she denies that she represents a people. Despite this statement, her actions and work to restrain her anger suggest she understands that, at this moment, she does represent a people. She performs great emotional labor to withstand these accusations, understanding that a harsh reaction on her part would reflect badly on her and anyone who looks anything like her.

A woman holds the Palestinian flag above her head.

She was taking the heat so her brothers didn’t have to. She was doing her part.

Works Cited

Hammad, Suheir. “First Writing Since.” In Motion Magazine , 7 Nov. 2001, www.inmotionmagazine.com/ac/shammad.html.

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One thought on “Doing Their Part

  1. This post successfully touches upon themes, such as identity and family, from our in-class discussion. Much like Suheir Hammad throughout her poem, Joe references his family in his opening paragraph. Recalling his experience of September 11th, Joe begins, “I remember sitting on the couch in my TV room watching my father cry.” This instance reminds me of Hammad’s claim in section four of “First Writing Since” where she states, “these are my friends and fam, / and it could have been me in those buildings” (57-58). Both Hammad and Joe reference their family in light of the terrorist attacks. In this same instance, reflecting on Joe’s argument that Hammad “was taking the heat so her brothers didn’t have to. She was doing her part,” I believe lines 57-58 reflect the same idea. In section four Hammad has to defend her identity by stating, “we”re not bad people” (58-59), when discussions surrounding bullying and hate towards Arabs arise. Joe comments on the fact that “at this moment, she [Hammad] does represent a people.” The notion that identity exceeds the capacities of itself is reflected in Hammad in this particular time of mourning. During a time when many are questioning what it means to be an American citizen, Hammad is “doing her part,” as Joe puts it, by establishing that her identity creates a unique standpoint in which she represents both a collective group and individual. Perhaps this duality encompasses the complexity of feelings everyone experienced during the aftermath of 9/11: Living in a world that was simultaneously your home and a place you did not recognize.

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